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Our Opinion: Clean car standards push need to be paused in Minnesota

In a Minnesota Public Radio story this week, it was reported that one of the sticking points to agreeing to a budget this year at the Minnesota Legislature was the struggle over Clean Car Standards the governor’s administration is trying to push through.

Gov. Tim Walz and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency have been working hard to push through the adoption of California’s standards. Among other things, this would require that auto dealers offer more hybrid and electric vehicles on their lots.

After a court ruling May cleared the way for emissions standards to move forward, the implementation of the standards wouldn’t go into effect until January of 2024 following a federally required two-year wait and would apply to 2025 vehicles.

However, we don’t think this is a fight Minnesotans need right now, despite the good it would do for the environment. This is especially true in a session where everything else is in contention and very little progress one way or the other is made on any of it.

Proponents of the move say getting more hybrid and electric cars on Minnesota roads would cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. However, those who oppose the move say it would put undue pressure on dealers, especially along the border where the temptation would lie for buyers to simply go to Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota or Wisconsin to buy their next vehicle for a cheaper price.

“All this rule is going to do is mean higher prices for everyone, and fewer trucks and fewer vehicles that people want to buy, on dealership lots,” said Scott Lambert, president of the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association in a Dec. 18, 2020, story.

In that same story, Rep. Dale Lueck (R-Aitkin) said that the price of a car could go up by as much as $2,500, though state officials said that number is closer to $1,000. Either way, that can mean the difference for whether or not many families buy out of state rather than in state.

Another argument is that what is true for metro regions isn’t necessarily true for rural Minnesota, where the balance of gas to electric/hybrid vehicles is still weighted toward farmers using gas vehicles. There just isn’t enough electric/hybrid trucks used by farmers that are financially acceptable.

Granted, the standard would not apply to farming equipment, off-road vehicles, heavy-duty vehicles or used vehicles, but it will apply to new vehicles and pick-up trucks. The pick-up truck is the most used vehicle in farming. This undoubtedly will make life more difficult for farmers are a substantial piece of local economies in Minnesota.

Climate change is a very real part of our lives these days and legislators should be taking the threat seriously and begin looking closely at the future of the part we play, but simply adopting another state’s model that is vastly different from our own is not the steps we need to take.

Environmentally sound vehicles are coming and are becoming more and more affordable. Car dealers have indicated that they support the goals of the state to get more electric/hybrid vehicles on our roads. So why not take the time and work towards a common goal? A common sense goal.

Minnesota doesn’t have the pollution issues of California, and while pollution is not a problem we can ignore, considering we still have a state budget to pass and the threat of a government shutdown, we feel our time can be better spent elsewhere.

We also don’t see the strain put on auto dealers as the right thing to do. Dealers could face potential problems moving electric/hybrids, meaning car buyers may not be as inclined to purchase a vehicle from a local dealer, bringing economic harm to the dealer and the community.

Republicans have said they are willing to compromise on the issue. At first Senate Republicans opposed the standards outright, but have since proposed a two-year delay. Our advice — kick this can down the road and pick it up later with a more compromising spirit.

Dependence on fossil fuels absolutely needs to be addressed. Minnesota has made great strides in being environmentally friendly in the last 20 years. Wind farms have not only been on the leading edge of this movement, they have also contributed to a windfall for counties reaping the tax benefits.

At some point we hope vehicles can also contribute to that as they become more available and cost efficient for both buyer and seller. Right now, the infrastructure to support this push in southeast Minnesota isn’t even there. Austin itself has only a handful of stations in town.

Take time, build the infrastructure and introduce this process steadily with all sides being represented.